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What came first: caption or drawing?

Posted by Rachel Stock on

When it comes to making people laugh, Mabel Lucie Attwell’s colourful illustrations of cute children with a cheeky message always met the brief. But how did the ideas tumble from her mind onto the page? Did she use a formula to ensure success whether postcard, book or comic strip? How would you approach the creative process – words or pictures first?

 An article in the Strand Magazine in 1936 settles the question:

‘I can’t start on a drawing until I’ve finally decided upon the title. In fact I never put pencil to paper until I have found a title that satisfies me. Sometimes I’ll have discarded twenty or thirty titles before I light upon the one that perfectly hits off the little notion I’m aiming at.’

Mabel in her studio, c1961
Mabel in her studio, c1961


Ever the perfectionist, we can picture Mabel at her desk crossing through caption after caption on her notepad until the right one took shape to inspire an illustration. We delved into the archive to share a few designs that made it all the way to production.


Collection of Mabel Lucie Attwell postcards

From left to right, the all important captions read:

Who ever 'lowed muvver to order twins?

Son Batheing

Don't know wot I wants – but I wants it so bad!

Although I'm working for a while, I finks of you and have a smile.

I takes a pretty good view of you! 

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